By Gina Bottom
My best friend had a baby last year, her first. I was there to celebrate with her in the hospital as she brought her beautiful baby girl into the world, and I was witness to her first year of life. She is much different now that she isn’t an infant, but her growth has been surprisingly slow. That’s because my friend decided she was only going to feed her daughter one big meal per week instead of the hassle of regular meals throughout the week. That sounds insane, doesn’t it?
Well that’s because I made it up. I do have a best friend that did have her first baby last year, but baby girl is healthy, growing, and strong-willed. Sister devours anything you put in front of her – bananas, peas, chicken, pizza, burgers (not joking), and every kids’ favorite – cheese. Of course, my friend is a wonderful mother who would never withhold meals each day from her child in favor of one big meal every week. Perhaps you didn’t believe me for a second because you know there’s no way a child could be happy, healthy and growing in mind and body on one meal a week, no matter how large. And yet, that is what most of us choose for ourselves when it comes to our own spiritual formation.
Formation and growth take place in the consistent practices that we participate in every day.
This week we’re talking about formation. Formation is defined as the way a thing is formed – so we’re talking about the way our spiritual selves develop. In going back to my analogy, most of us decide to attend church once a week on Sunday, participate in the occasional community event, but perhaps little to nothing with the specific purpose for spiritual growth. Consequently, like the growing child on the one-meal-per-week-diet we experience a malnourished and barely surviving faith.
Formation and growth take place in the consistent practices that we participate in every day. Every day, my husband makes us coffee. Every day, I clean out the cat’s litter box. Every day, we make our bed. In the years that we have done these consistent practices, we have been shaped into people who love coffee, have a house that smells good and looks nice and put together. While some would argue that drinking coffee is a spiritual discipline, I would say that there are a few other practices that are more effective in producing a robust and healthy faith:
Morning and Evening Prayer
If you’ve spent any time with Fr. Bottom, you know that this is his mantra. Naturally, it has to be first on my list. Morning and Evening Prayer are the bedrock of spiritual disciplines, the practice of turning your heart, mind, and prayers toward the Lord at the beginning and end of your day. It’s a consistent recalibration of your heart toward God. What a beautiful and simple way to effectively submit your soul to the One who made it.
In a culture where excess is king and none of us has to truly do without, it can be incredibly humbling and effective to practice self-denial. Whether it’s food or television or anything you regularly consume, going without, in consistent small doses, is a great way to make you aware of what you depend on rather than the Lord for sustainment. It’s a simple and effective way to once again, turn your heart back to the Lord.
There is so much noise in our worlds, you guys. Music, podcasts, television, internet, social media… how in the world are you supposed to hear your own thoughts, much less hear the voice of the Lord? Silence is hard, but it absolutely necessary if you are going to make room for the Holy Spirit to speak to you and for you to hear him. Any way that you can make time for a few minutes of quiet, do it. Perhaps while you enjoy that first cup of coffee. Or maybe the first half of your commute, turn off that podcast. I especially find that when I put on my make-up in silence, I not only make room to hear the voice of the Lord, but often solve the world’s problems and have a particularly cringe-worthy memory come up all in the span of ten minutes.
Of course, participating in the sacraments of confession, Eucharist and reading Holy Scripture are essential as well. These that I’ve listed are just a few ways that we may actively participate in the formation of our faith through daily routines. Ultimately, and perhaps counter-intuitively, having small but consistent spiritual disciplines in our daily routines is the life of faith. It is through the small daily decisions where we trust God’s Spirit to grow and form us in wisdom and maturity. These practices are like the continual dripping of water on a rock, one drop does nothing to the hard surface, but over time He produces in us something significant. Just as we eat and drink and exercise our bodies (or we should), the benefit is not only in a goal we attain, but in who we become in the process. Strong, healthy, able to rise to challenges and thrive in the ordinary – this is who we want to be spiritually. Crunch time isn’t when we should scramble to get ourselves together, the time is now.
Let’s make choices today that benefit us in who we want to be right now and in the future. Let’s learn to make these habits a part of our daily routine and trust that the Lord is using them to shape us, to form us into healthy and mature children of God.